Did you know that a single ingredient in many cookies, ice cream and soap is destroying the homes of multiple endangered species?
According to saynotopalmoil.com, the palm oil industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production.
This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes, species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5 to 10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.
A large proportion of palm oil expansion occurs at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystems in the countries it is produced. Currently, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered as a consequence of this unsustainable development that is rapidly encroaching on their habitat. Palm oil has also become one of the world’s leading causes of rainforest destruction and contributes significantly to climate change. The removal of the native forests often involves the burning of invaluable timber and remaining forest undergrowth, emitting immense quantities of smoke into the atmosphere and making Indonesia the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
The palm oil industry has grown dramatically over the past few decades and palm oil now accounts for a quarter of global vegetable oil consumption and nearly 60% of the global trade in vegetable oils. In the U.S. alone, palm oil imports have jumped 485% in the last decade. Palm oil is found in a multitude of not only food but cosmetic products as well (and in some countries it can hide under the vague name of “vegetable oil.”) This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40-50% of household products in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England. Palm oil can be present in a wide variety of products, including: snack foods, baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste.
So what products contain this high demand oil, and how do we best avoid them? Well sadly it’s hard to know since many labels don’t specify palm oil. Under current regulations, it is legal for EU food manufacturers to list palm oil simply as “vegetable oil” (although manufacturers will have to comply to new labeling laws in December of 2014), and US labeling laws are vague at best. In cosmetics, palm oil is labelled Elaeis guineensis but as with the food industry, its presence is often less obvious. Any ingredient which includes the word “palm” (palmitate, palmitoyl or simply palm) will often include palm oil. Here is a partial list from The Rainforest Action Network of other names that palm ingredients can be labeled as, so read your ingredient list carefully!
- Palm Kernel Oil (PKO) and PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein
- (PKOo)Partially Hydrogenated Palm and Palm Kernel Oil (PHP(K)O)
- Fractionated Palm and Palm Kernel Oil (FP(K)O)
- Organic Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil (OP(K)O)
- Palmitate — Vitamin A or Ascorbyl Palmitate
- Sodium Laureth Sulphate and Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (these can also be derived from other vegetable oils)
- Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
- Elaeis Guineensis
- Glyceryl Stearate and Stearic Acid
- Steareth -2 and Steareth -20
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Lauryl sulfoacetate
- Hydrated palm glycerides
- Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye
- Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate
- Kit Kat Candy Bars
- Johnson & Johnson Baby Products
- Dove Soap
- Herbal Essences Hair Care
- Colgate Toothpaste
- Oil of Olay
- Head & Shoulders
- Neutrogena Naturals Soap
- Maybelline Mascara
That said, not all palm oil is bad. An organization called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has been developed to help move the industry toward sustainability. However, membership of the RSPO alone is not a sufficient guarantee of sustainability, and many environmental organizations are skeptical about the potential greenwashing of their members. RSPO certification is a more demanding standard, but we are yet to uncover many producers sourcing certified sustainable palm oil. Some companies, however, are in fact pioneering sustainable business practices that neither cause deforestation nor habitat destruction.
According to The Orang Utan Republik Foundation, which has been in the business of protecting the Orangutans since the ’70s, boycotting palm oil is not the solution, and rather, supporting sustainable palm oil is. When we look at the volume of palm oil that is being produced for the current worldwide demand, we see that eradicating its use is not realistic. For now, the best choice is to either avoid the products containing palm oil entirely, or look for product carrying the RSPO logo to support companies that are using sustainable sources of the stuff.
So the bottom line is: conscious eating can help solve this problem. Be mindful of what you buy and consume, doing your best to think of people and planet as well as your health when you make your purchasing decisions. Vote with your dollars for the kind of world you want to live in!